VIRGINIA BEACH – Three researchers from the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Dahlgren Division pitched possible commercial applications of their inventions to an expert panel similar to ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
But there were no TV cameras and the judge’s panel assembled on Oct. 5 was comprised of university professors, business owners, and entrepreneurs who brainstormed other commercial applications after the inventors’ presentations while asking them questions.
“Hearing the panel of experts take an interest in our invention and think of dozens of commercial applications was a great experience. It inspires us to not only continue to seek outside opportunities for this invention but to think of other things that might have both DoD and commercial applications,” said Alex Dixon from the center’s Systems Assessment Branch.
Defense laboratories create inventions that often have commercial applications. To help the inventors evaluate private sector use, Naval Surface Warfare Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD)/Dam Neck Activity hosted the Innovation Discovery event with facilitation by TechLink staff.
Dixon and his colleague Aidan Cowhig presented a device known as an air amplifier, which reduces the amount of compressed air needed to inflate rigid inflatable boats by using a 3D-printed amplifier that is customizable to fit any desired inflatable. Traditionally, the boats are inflated with compressed tanks at a 1:1 ratio. Using the Venturi and Coanda effects, the amplifier uses ambient air to supplement the compressed air and reduces the amount of compressed air tanks needed to inflate the boat.
Dixon said businesses that produce or sell inflatable devices might benefit from the air amplifier. It could be useful in camping or expeditionary environments, where compressed air is rare and conserved. It could also be helpful in emergency situations.
Innovation Discovery events are designed to improve the transfer, transition, and commercialization of inventions being developed at the lab, leading to enhanced defense capabilities and positive economic impacts.
At this event, the researchers were from the NSWCDD’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber-Defense and Combat Systems and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Systems Division (C6ISR). Bill Ward from the Cybersecurity Engineering and Readiness Branch presented a serial interface monitor, and Tony Bausas and Leon Gregg from the Special Technologies Branch presented a spectral thumbnail innovation.
Innovation Discovery events also engages lab scientists and engineers in the technology transfer process, and it raises the visibility of inventions with senior management and builds awareness of the lab as a national center of innovation.
Technical transfer of patents into these industries — or anywhere in the public domain — can help the Navy save money by reducing cost and increasing product availability.
“The panelists added a new dimension and a fresh look at the commercial applicability of NSWCDD intellectual property,” said Lorraine Harting, NSWCDD Technical Partnering Office acting director, regarding the non-federal panel members’ view of federal technology and its applications.
The panelists were led by Michael Reilly and Darin Oelkers of TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary, which brokers cooperative research and development agreements and patent license agreements between DoD labs and U.S. industry. These inventions involve virtually all technology fields, including medicine, software, electronics, communications, advanced materials, and energy-related technologies.
In contrast to the “Shark Tank” moguls, the Innovation Discovery panel nurtures pressure free, non-critical, imaginative brainstorming sessions for ideas that improve the transfer, transition, and commercialization of inventions under development, leading to enhanced defense capabilities and positive economic impact.
“The more relaxed you are, the more creative you are,” said Reilly, who taught college students for more than 30 years at Montana State University. “It’s highly important that we have no criticism — it will block creative thinking. When you think you will be judged, it will block you creatively. We are being creative as we see what everyone sees but thinking what no one else thinks.”
The brainstorming — and a technique inspiring creativity called brainwriting — began immediately after each inventor briefed his innovation to the panel. In the end, the panel — and the witnessing audience of scientists and engineers — generated scores of commercial applications for the inventions.
The panelists were Marco Rubin, senior investment director for the Center for Innovative Technology; David Ihrie, chief technology officer for the Center for Innovative Technology; Dr. Charlie Daniels, an engineering management and systems engineering professor at Old Dominion University; Dr. Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center at Old Dominion University; Dr. Martin Kaszubowski, executive director of the Center for Enterprise Innovation at Old Dominion University; Garret Westlake, executive director of the DaVinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University; and Todd Gillingham, vice president of marketing and operations for the Fredericksburg (Va.) Regional Alliance.
“They brainstormed many great commercialization ideas for our technologies and patent claims to strengthen our patent applications,” Harting said. “We will work hard to bring some of the great ideas generated to fruition. Ideally, the panel members will become ambassadors for NSWCDD. As they become aware of our inventions and the potential of these inventions to help create new technology start-up companies and assist existing businesses in the region, they will help get the word out: NSWCDD is a valuable national asset that has the potential to be a powerful engine of innovation and economic development.”
The Innovation Discovery process has been identified as a best practice by the Navy Technology Transfer Program. The process allows defense laboratories throughout the United States to discover, document, and protect intellectual property and its potential commercial applications.
Before the Innovation Discovery process, there were limited resources in place to thoroughly identify and capture intellectual property aspects. Moreover, there was little thought among scientists and engineers about the technology transfer and commercialization potential of the innovations developed and implemented within their military projects.
Now, TechLink’s Innovation Discovery program is enabling NSWCDD technologists to exploit the government’s intellectual property generated during the research and development process.
What’s more, the patents’ transfer to industry partners can result in royalty payments for the Navy. If commercial product sales are made that include these patents in the future, a percentage of those sales will also come back to the inventors and NSWCDD.
NSWCDD, a Naval Sea Systems Command warfare center division, is a premier research and development center that serves as a specialty site for weapon system integration. The command’s unique ability to rapidly introduce new technology into complex warfighting systems is based on its longstanding competencies in science and technology, research and development, and test and evaluation.
Dahlgren’s Dam Neck Activity at Combat Direction System Activity performs research, development, test and evaluation, analysis, systems engineering and integration of complex naval systems associated with surface warfare and strategic combat and weapon systems.
Reporting by Joe Navratil, NSWCDD Combat Direction Systems Activity Dam Neck. TechLink Editor Troy Carter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-994-7798.